Elliah Heifetz — First Generation American
Imagine being the son of Soviet refugees, with all of the stereotypes that entails, and releasing your first full-length country music album now. In Spring of 2022. Ballsy, to say the least. But Elliah Heifetz is as American as anyone reading this – his birth certificate and his commitment both attest to that – and his eyes-wide-open version of country storytelling gives First Generation American a renewed view on the country music tropes we tend to take for granted.
The record’s title track lays out the loose theme for the entire album – essentially that, after years of writing songs for major labels and working in the shadows of the country music world, Heifetz is determined to no longer be “othered.” “First Generation American” is upbeat and celebratory, even throwing in some accordion for a little Eastern European feel, while the singer lists all the ways in which he’s not a prototypical (i.e. generic) country star – from “My parents came from an Iron Curtain/Neighbors couldn’t say my name so well” to “I didn’t try Kentucky liquor/’Til I heard about it in a song” – but he realizes that being here is enough to justify his dreams. Heifetz also knows well enough to thank his Momma (how’s that for country) and father for making sure he has a better life than they did. “Living Proof” recognizes their sacrifice – “Her second tongue was English/But her first was patience/And everything she did, she had to do” – in this sweet, tender ballad. Humor, and a little bit of hard-earned snark, are all over First Generation American, but there’s nothing but genuine love on this track.
Heifetz also turns his gaze outward on the album, looking at immigrant experiences that aren’t necessarily his own. “Denver,” featuring acoustic guitar and some nice steel work, has a refugee trying to keep his head down in the (very expensive) American city while separated from his young family – “Ruby Hill at sunset, plastic houses in a row/Maybe smaller than a boxcar, but there’s room for thirty toes.” And “Molly Margarita” shows us what happens when someone’s been here so long, and been assimilated so much, that heritage and culture – not to mention the struggle to make it to the US to being with – begin to disappear from memory – “You’ve got oceans in your bloodline, but you’ve never seen the sea.”
Country music, especially in its current incarnation, is fun, though, and Heifetz knows how to cut loose. “Buzzin’” is a piano-driven, rockabilly rave-up about putting the serious stuff aside and, well, buzzin’. “Be My Friend” is a country jaunt that realizes friendship (along with a good drink) can overcome the most vast of differences – “Build a wall between us/It won’t matter/’Cause we’re sticking together.” And “Country Harmony ” is a name-dropping country love song featuring Heifetz’s parner, Jane Bruce, on vocals. Though neither is a stereotypical natural in the country music world, they both know how to sing and write – “My hair puffs up, my name sounds forgeign/You come from the land of Mormons.” If you have a story and the ability to tell it, you’re country. Heifetz proves – and lives – that as well as anyone.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Country Harmony” – For the harmonies, the storytelling and the couple’s genuine love of country music.
First Generation American was produced, engineered and mixed by Andrija Tokic and mastered by John Baldwin. All songs were written by Elliah Heifetz. Additional musicians on the album include Jane Bruce (vocals), John James Tourville (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, baritone guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, timpany, fiddle, triangle), Jeff Taylor (piano, organ, accordion), Jack Lawrence (electric bass), Dennis Crouch (upright bass), Jimmy Lester (drums), Nickie Conley (vocals) and Maureen Murphy (vocals).
Go here to order First Generation American (out April 1): https://linkr.bio/vv4732
Check out tour dates here: https://www.elliahheifetz.com/gallery
Read Jason M. Burns’ Americana Highways interview with Elliah Heifetz: https://americanahighways.org/2022/01/24/interview-elliah-heifetz-and-the-acceptance-of-otherness/